Gay dancer shines in ‘Pip­pin’

GA Voice - - Art Makers - By JIM FARMER

The mu­sic is still the same, but mu­si­cal theater junkies familiar with “Pip­pin” might be a lit­tle sur­prised at the cur­rent ver­sion. The pro­duc­tion that made its Broad­way de­but in the early ’70s has def­i­nitely got­ten a makeover in the hands of direc­tor Diane Paulus, who res­ur­rected “Hair” in New York and on the road. “Pip­pin” bows at the Fox Theatre next week, cour­tesy of Broad­way Across Amer­ica, with out per­former Alan Kelly part of its en­sem­ble.

The pop mu­si­cal tells the story of Pip­pin, a young prince who is look­ing for mean­ing in his life. He has the choice of whether he can live a sim­ple but rel­a­tively happy life—or risk it all for a mo­ment of glory. The char­ac­ters of Pip­pin and his fa­ther are based on real-life peo­ple from the Mid­dle Ages. Known for its Bob Fosse danc­ing and pro­duc­tion num­bers as well as Stephen Schwartz’s mu­sic, the reimag­ined “Pip­pin” won a Tony Award for Best Re­vival in 2013. The new con­cept—which Kelly says adds “an el­e­ment of dan­ger”—finds the play­ers part of a cir­cus troupe.

Kelly trained at the Na­tional Per­form­ing Arts School and the Col­lege of Dance in Dublin, Ire­land, and later moved to Lon­don and got more train­ing at Laine Theatre Arts and Trinity Col­lege Lon­don. The ac­tor was a pro­lific per­former al­ready in shows such as El­ton John’s “Aida” and the Fred­die Mer­cury mu­si­cal “We Will Rock You” when he won a green card lot­tery and got to move to the United States in Jan­uary of 2013.

He is based in New York and “Pip­pin” is his first big show. The au­di­tion process for “Pip­pin” took a while, though. In all, he had to au­di­tion five times be­fore he got the part. Be­sides be­ing part of the en­sem­ble, he is the un­der­study for the char­ac­ter of Charles. As fate would have it, the first time he went on was the day of a mati­nee, so he wound up go­ing on then as well as the evening per­for­mance. That first time, he re­calls, was a more tech­ni­cal per­for­mance, try­ing to get it all right. The sec­ond time, how­ever, he was more re­laxed.

“Pip­pin” is a de­mand­ing show, re­quir­ing lots of phys­i­cal­ity from its en­sem­ble. For this pro­duc­tion, Kelly has learned a con­tor­tion­ist trick, re­quir­ing him to lift an­other man dur­ing the mu­si­cal. “That one scene prob­a­bly took the long­est in tech to fi­nesse,” he says. Most of the oth­ers per­form­ers have had to add some­thing to their reper­toire as well. “It all adds to the mag­i­cal el­e­ment,” he says.

The tour­ing ver­sion fea­tures actress Adri­enne Bar­beau, who joined the cast ear­lier this year as Berthe. She is 70 years old but has fit in well with the cast, he says. “She is en­er­getic, fun and charm­ing,” he says. “What she does is re­ally im­pres­sive. It’s re­ally great cast­ing.”

The show also has the orig­i­nal Pip­pin—John Ru­bin­stein—in its cast, star­ring as Charles.

Kelly, who will turn 30 dur­ing the At­lanta gig, has never been to the city but is look­ing for­ward to meet­ing up with some friends here and see­ing more of the city. “I am very touristy,” he says.

He is con­tracted with the show through early 2016. Af­ter that he will de­ter­mine his next move, whether it will be stay­ing with the tour or look­ing for his next gig.

“That one scene prob­a­bly took the long­est in tech to fi­nesse. Most of the oth­ers per­form­ers have had to add some­thing to their reper­toire as well. It all adds to the mag­i­cal el­e­ment.”

Ac­tor Alan Kelly on learn­ing a con­tor­tion­ist trick, re­quir­ing him to lift an­other man dur­ing the mu­si­cal.

Alan Kelly (inset) is a gay ac­tor in the smash hit Broad­way show ‘Pip­pin’ com­ing to the Fox Theatre May 5-10. (Cour­tesy pho­tos)

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